Finding the right balance

By Robyn Yousef

Amy Chua's stand as outlined in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has created widespread interest and prompted experts and parents into asking questions. Photo / Supplied
Amy Chua's stand as outlined in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has created widespread interest and prompted experts and parents into asking questions. Photo / Supplied

Amy Chua is unashamedly a 'Tiger Mother'. Her daughters were never allowed to go to sleepovers, have playmates, be in a school play, watch television or play computer games. They were also forbidden to choose their own extra-curricular activities, play any instrument other than the violin or piano and any school grade less than an A was out of the question.

While there's been plenty of negative reactions to Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, for what many perceive as cruel and over-the-top parenting, her teenage daughters (now 15 and 18) have excelled and they're still loyal to her.

Chua calls her parenting style the "Chinese Way", saying Westerners let their children waste too much time and don't prepare them well for the future.

Some critics say she wrote the book with her tongue firmly in her cheek, while others are more upset about the stereotyping of Chinese and Western cultures by this Chinese-American than her draconian parenting methods.

But local child health professionals are pointing out some strong positive concepts from Chua's book. Dr Hugh Clarkson, who has nearly 30 years experience as a child, adolescent and family psychiatrist, says it sparks some interesting points.

"Definitely some Kiwi parents really struggle to set limits for their children as they are concerned it will damage their relationship if they ask too much. There is no doubt about it; different cultures do have different emphases on different values. Every culture wants their children to do well and have different ideas about how best to achieve that," he says.

"As a generalisation, Chinese parents focus on hard work and discipline aimed at academic success, while Kiwi parents focus on fostering good self-esteem. They want to give their kids a good experience of childhood.

"Of course, that doesn't mean Chinese parents want their children to have an unhappy childhood, nor do Kiwi parents not want their children to achieve well. No matter which culture, parents worry about getting the balance right. Sometimes you have to upset kids to get the best out of them. But they do differ in ability so pushing isn't always right."

Chua wrote about supervising music sessions so gruelling that one girl left tooth marks on the piano. She believed her daughters' competence had to be improved before they could enjoy playing music; when it became fun.

"If we simply lavish praise on our kids, we forget that often they have to work hard at something before they can do it reasonably well and therefore enjoy it more," Clarkson adds. "But, it's really all in how we balance our parenting."

Chua's opinions do have a place, according to Lynn Berresford, who as a psychologist has more than three decades experience working with children, teenagers and adults with exceptional needs. She has been the Gifted Education Centre consultant psychologist since it was established in 1995 and is the director of the Indigo Assessment and Counselling Centre.

Berresford believes there is a swing back to a less permissive way of parenting. "Whenever a pendulum swings to an extreme it is natural for the opposition extreme to become stronger. Parenting history is full of examples.

"At the present time, the Chinese and Indian families we see generally do appear to have a clearer articulated education focus than some Kiwi families," she says. "The Kiwi approach can at times be anything but relaxed. Many Kiwi parents' focus is on providing the very best to meet their children's education needs and their children's interests such as sports, music or drama."

Berresford commends Chua's stand because it has created widespread interest, prompting some experts and parents into asking questions. "There is no one homogenous correct stand on parenting. Our children are different, our expectations can be different. It is important to beware of hypotheses and generalisations.

"Be in the moment with children, connect with who they are and what they need," she suggests. "One moment it will be the right action for all to be an Amy Chua and the next moment it will be the right action to allow your child to choose - just be sure that all of the choices given are ones you would also choose."

- NZ Herald

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